Kirkus Reviews QR Code


A Biography of Kurt Cobain

by Charles R. Cross

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-7868-6505-9
Publisher: Hyperion

Music journalist Cross (Nevermind, not reviewed, etc.) treats the short, strange, unhappy life of musician Kurt Cobain with intelligence and an insider's perceptiveness.

Terrible though it was, Cobain's suicide by shotgun in 1994 would never be categorized as a surprise. As Cross explains, Cobain had a lifelong affair with the act, indifferently gabbing about it as a teenager, writing and painting pictures of it, putting it in song lyrics, making a run for it in Rome—only to have his girlfriend find him comatose and rush him to a hospital. Cross picks up Cobain's life story on day one and follows it through his dreadful youth: divorced parents, one inept and the other an alcoholic, never any physical or emotional space for him, finally living out of a cardboard box as a high-schooler. It doesn't take much for Cross to convince readers of the psychological pain that Cobain endured and why he might turn to booze, then LSD, marijuana, cough syrup, and heroin. Certainly, fame was no tonic, nor, ultimately, was his marriage to fellow musician Courtney Love, or his daughter Frances. The best, or at least most telling, material here comes from interviews with friends—Cross had access to Cobain's notebooks, but he has the good sense to appreciate that they contain a good amount of posturing—who describe a wildly creative guy who could also be a “world-class whiner,” someone who cultivated the grunge look, an anti-star who wanted to know why MTV didn't run his video more often, a nihilist who never could shake his shame and self-loathing. Too many demons were crawling around in his skull to ever let him bask in his artistry or the love of the few people who really cared about him. It’s as though Cobain's life was one long session with a particularly evil hair shirt.

A flash of musical brilliance—“beautiful, haunting, disturbing”—suffocated by a life so relentlessly grim you wouldn't wish it on a sworn enemy.